Monday, July 27, 2015

Doing things to, for, or with others?

Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at
July 27, 2015

                In the introduction to my first book (Crime and Conflict: A Study of Law and Society, 1976; pdf copies on request, and under “articles” at I write that that “study” began with an encounter with Swedish psychologist Magnus Hedberg, as I was on my way home with my parents from having spent my last year of secondary school in Trondheim’s Cathedral School.  Magnus asked me what “democracy” meant to me as I went off to college seeking to follow in Clarence Darrow’s legal footsteps (see Attorney for the Damned).  I borrowed from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address to become an officer of court in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, to make law work for the people.  Magnus had me elaborate on what I meant by my vision of being a lawyer for the people, then asked: What about doing things WITH people?  I responded that I saw no difference between doing things for and with people.  He responded: You’ll have no problem returning to America.  After my year of trying hard to fit in with Norwegians, I felt challenged to understanding what difference the attitude of doing WITH people makes, for others and my sense of safety, trust, and value with others—particularly in cases at all intra-/interpersonal levels that are driven by fear and distrust, a way of defining and responding to “violence” which I have come to call “peacemaking.”
                Leslie T. Wilkins had by then taught me to see that the overwhelming problem of the boundaries of criminological knowledge and practice was “treating the problem as the problem of the criminal.”  The criminological and mental health divide between punishment and treatment (so-called “liberal criminology” and “treatment options” in broader contexts, as for “at-risk” youth beginning in the latter 19th century with institution of reformatories and “reform schools”) continue, where providing services “for” assessed as “at risk” or legally dangerous to themselves and others is held out as a way to “end mass incarceration” in my country.  If you’re opposed to punishing offenders, treatment alternatives or “intervention” is where alternatives lie.  From measuring crime by prison counts and convictions to law enforcement data, waves of political preference for punishment and confinement, and for rehabilitation and treatment of offenders and the mentally ill, continue to succeed one another, most recently in using “broken windows” data to show how police reduce crime by making petty public order arrests.
                At the same time, including among those charged with enforcing the law and treating (potential) offenders and the mentally ill, indeed in all our relations, I find ways we do things WITH people in practice—transforming the authority to do things to or for people into a mutually controlled and guided process of building common ground, including police officers, judges, probation, parole and prison officers, with those they encounter.  In formal legal terms, from Chinese dynastic law through “conferencing,” it is “mediation” or “conflict” or “dispute resolution” in contrast to adjudication and arbitration (though often one-sided in practice).  I thank my Scandinavian friends and teachers, who have brought with-ness to my conscious attention.  I have come to know it also as feminist praxis, as circle processes, as empathic relations physically, and as compassion in spirit.  Peacemaking happens in moments where participation and creation of what to do next is balanced, where in substantive outcomes and agreements to terms include terms created in a process of mutual validation and accommodation, where participants create their own social contracts rather than by prescription or order, by sharing power rather than by exercises of power over others, whether it is done to or for them.  Fifty-four years later, I owe Magnus Hedberg credit for guiding me to the fundamental realization that peacemaking lies in coming to terms with rather than to or for others, regardless of the formal structures in which we relate.  Love and peace, hal  

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